20 November 2012

Genesis 21:1-7; 22:1-19

"He said, 'Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.'" (22:2)


In her old age Isaac is born to Sarah, just as the Lord had promised (Genesis 17:16). The naming of the child and his circumcision when eight days old are in accordance with Genesis 17:19. In one tradition, he is so called because Sarah rejoices over the fact that God has made her pregnant; according to the other, the friends of Sarah will laugh when they have news that she has borne a son.

The sacrifice of Isaac is the supreme test of Abraham's faith. After Abraham had left his homeland in response to the divine call, and had received the promise of an heir and the land of Canaan as his inheritance, his faith is greatly tested. Abraham is now ordered by God to take Isaac, the son of promise and the child he loved, to the land of Moriah, and offer him up as a sacrifice.

God is asking Abraham to give back the son whom he had received as a miraculous gift. Such a prospect is beyond all human reason and comprehension.

The problem here is one of obedience to God's word in the face of utter despair. Can Abraham be so obedient? Not a word is mentioned about Abraham's inner turmoil; he goes with his son to the place of sacrifice. There is no middle course.

Abraham prepares the altar for the sacrifice of Isaac and is ready to kill for him, when the angel of the Lord stays his hand and stops the fatal act.

Instead Abraham sees a ram in a nearby thicket and offers it up as a sacrifice in the place of his son. As a reward for Abraham's obedience, the Lord through the angel messenger, renews God's own promises to him.

To Ponder

  • What makes you 'laugh'?
  • How has your faith been tested?
  • In what ways has the testing of your faith led to a deeper faith?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Teal

Richard Teal is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Cumbria Methodist District. He has a deep interest in ecumenical relationships, Church growth and liturgy.